"It was really fun, and I'm so glad I got to do a song and dance number on the show too," shares Hasan Minhaj of his experience being cast as new co-anchor Eric Nomani on Season 2 of Apple TV+'s 'The Morning Show', and getting to showcase some musical enthusiasm during a rendition of 'What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?' with Reese Witherspoon's Bradley Jackson - a performance which also required the duo to record their vocals together in a studio.
'The Morning Show' creator, writer and executive producer Kerry Ehrin says of Minhaj's audition tape which was filmed while getting ready for his sister’s wedding: "For that role, we wanted to find somebody who was very charismatic, as both a morning show personality and as someone who could do nightly news. He did his audition with his mom and saying what he was doing New Year's Eve with his mom, and he was great. His mom is super cute. Actually, I wanted to cast her too."
Returning to the high-stakes world of UBA this season, 'The Morning Show' questions the symbolic creation, curation, and performance of identities, and how personal constructs and selective perception inhibit even the most seemingly honest of humans from being a reliable narrator.
Coup De Main spoke to Hasan Minhaj about acting opposite not only Witherspoon, but also Jennifer Aniston, personal growth, and continuing to be employed as a fake news presenter...
COUP DE MAIN: Most people are familiar with you from your previous work on 'The Daily Show' and 'Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj'. How did it feel going from fake news, to news, and now a fake news show?
HASAN MINHAJ: <laughs> You're the first person to recognise that! I've been telling people: I've been playing a fake TV anchor--
CDM: When I heard that you'd been cast, it made so much sense to me.
HASAN: Yes! It was the most obvious thing. Thank you! Thank you for noticing that. Yeah, I played a fake TV host for seven years, and now I get to play a fake TV host again for a little bit longer. It was really fun. I'm very used to wearing a suit, looking directly down the barrel of a camera, and reading prompter. The only thing that was new here, which I think is really interesting, is all the dramatic elements of the show. That was really fun and amazing.
CDM: One of the big questions that this new season of 'The Morning Show' explores is: If you're self-aware and willing to want to become a better person, how do you actually do that? Is it possible for people to change?
HASAN: I truly believe that it's possible for people to change. I'm 35 years old, I still have my comedy journals from when I was 19, and I've gone back and looked at my thoughts, my journal entries, and my observations. I think that is just a reality of growth and of life. What's happened right now with the internet, is it captured all of our memories and put them in amber for everybody to look back at and we don't have what was already built into our natural inclinations - memories were supposed to fade, in a good way, so that we constantly grow and evolve and remember the new people that we're becoming. The internet has etched everything in stone. Ultimately, one of the things I've thought about for myself, not only as a performer, but as a person is: Hey, rough draft Hasan is continuing to evolve and grow, and I certainly hope people in the world don't just see me as final draft Hasan because I think I'm growing every day, and growing as an artist, and as a person, as a husband, and as a father, every day.
CDM: What makes a good person good? And a bad person bad?
HASAN: I will say this: I think one of the lessons that I've learned with getting older is you don't know what someone else's personal experience is. And one of the things that I've tried to do to navigate the world is: It can be daunting at times to try to change the world, so instead, I've tried to focus on changing my world. What are my own personal responsibilities? What are my own personal accountabilities to myself? To my wife? To my children? To my mom? To my dad? To my in-laws? To my sister? Those are things that I feel like I can manage and impact the most, and I've tried to focus on that. Even though there are times where I've had the inclination to try to expound my world views on other people, or finger wag at other people, I try to focus on my world first.
CDM: It can be really jarring to realise that there's a big difference between the person that you want to be, and the person that you actually are. What do you think is the most challenging thing about trying to reconcile the two?
HASAN: I think one of the toughest things for me is... It's so funny, I've said this, oftentimes, what I'm trying to do is close the gap between who I am on Instagram and who I am on iMessage. There's the projection of who we are online, which we feel is the best version of ourselves - we're all our own publicists of our own lifestyle brands and have our blue-check verified brands. And then there's who we are on WhatsApp or who we are on iMessage, and those are messy, complicated, nuanced human beings. One of the things that I've genuinely tried is: I certainly hope that as I try to be a better person and make my actions match my intentions, that people also share the same grace and humility that hopefully I impart upon them. That's what I hope for.
CDM: What was it like working with Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston?
HASAN: Reese and Jen are absolutely incredible icons, and being on set with them I got to see why. 'Oh, this is why Reese Witherspoon is America's sweetheart. This is why Jennifer Aniston is a legend and she's been working for so long and she's so loved and revered by so many people.' Their ability to drop into scenes is incredible. And this cast specifically is just stacked with all stars. When you look at someone like Billy Crudup, or at Karen Pittman, who is incredible on this show, and Jennifer Aniston is incredible on the show, Reese Witherspoon is incredible on the show, the new cast that's come in; Greta [Lee] is fantastic on the show... I'm really surrounded and lucky to be working with just absolute masters of their craft. That to me was the coolest to be on set and to see each of these artists drop into their scenes and just bring their best work forward. Really cool.
CDM: It's heartwarming when in this season of 'The Morning Show' one of the characters points out that relationships don't always have to be transactional. It's been really weird watching everything unfold in America over the past year, I don't think I really realised previously that New Zealand's culture of 'the collective' wasn't actually common everywhere else. How do you think the last year has impacted America's individualistic culture?
HASAN: Wow, totally. One of the things that defined American culture, and we saw it succeed in many ways, was through radical individualism. My personal background is I'm Indian-American, which means I am sort of merging-- I'm a hyphen between two cultural realities. There is radical, communal, familial thinking, and East Asian culture - specifically Indian culture. I have a responsibility to myself, to my parents, to my children, to my grandparents, to my community. The downside of that is oftentimes you can be shamed for risk taking; you can be ostracised for doing things outside of the cultural group norm. The positive of that is you have an opportunity to see the world and yourself as something bigger than just your own individual wants and needs, you're part of a present collective, you're building something for future progeny. That's a beautiful thing. On the other side, with American culture, through radical individualism, that's great for entrepreneurship, new ideas, and new ways of expressing yourself. And furthermore, there's a culture that you can fail and it is not a reflection upon your forefathers, your ancestors, or your children. Radical trial and error is encouraged, and I think that ultimately is a good thing that leads to new ideas, new film, new art, new things, which ultimately is what makes life beautiful and amazing. The downside of that is what we saw during the Covid pandemic, the extent to which people will put their own individual wants and needs over the collective under the guise of freedom. So I think me having this dual identity has made me look at both in very new and unique ways. What I've tried to do is bring the best of both and try to put that in my own life
CDM: This season also explores the idea that: we are our actions. It's important that we are held accountable for our actions, especially if we've done wrong, but in some situations there ought to be some work-life balance when all of your actions only revolve around work - like the character Mia who makes a deadpan joke that all she has in life is work. She seems to be seeking an unhealthy level of validation from her work. Where do you see a healthy middle ground?
HASAN: I think there's two things that I've tried to do, and establish some sort of healthy middle ground, or something that perhaps would feel more fulfilling. In regards to the Mia Jordan deadpan joke, what I've tried to understand is you are so much more than your IMDb profile. And as soon as you let go of that idea, perhaps not only your work life will succeed, but the art that you make will succeed as well. Which leads to my second point. The second point is: Remember why you even got into this game to begin with. I got into comedy and performing because there was something inside of me that I wanted to share with people, there's things that I really believed and I wanted to share with an audience. And I think the further you go in your career, you start getting pulled into all these different directions: 'Should I do this show? Do this movie? Maybe I need to be a part of this thing?' Instead of asking yourself: 'Wait, the first time you got on stage, September 12 2004, there was something burning inside of you 17 years ago. What was that?' And keep asking yourself those questions. Try to answer that. And be in service of the art and be in service of the audience. Try to give them something: 'Hey, I made you this. This is in service of you. I made you the show. I want you to see it. Check it out. I really put my heart into it.' I think people can tell.
'The Morning Show' season two is now streaming on Apple TV+.
Watch a trailer below: